Which is the highest mountain in the Solar System? Is it Mount Everest?

No, however tall Mount Everest is, it doesn’t stand a chance against the Olympus Mons, on our neighboring planet, Mars. It is the highest and largest mountain in the Solar System, rising about 72,000 feet (22 kilometers or 13.6 miles) on top of its surrounding plains.

Its name directly means Mt. Olympus in Latin, but it was derived from the Greek mythology’s Mt. Olympus. In the late 19th to early 20th century, Giovanni Schiaparelli, an astronomer, first noticed this bright area, which stayed stable despite dust storms. He gave it the name ‘Nix Olympica’ or ‘Olympic Snows.’ It was then renamed to Olympus Mons after the Mariner 9 mission.

The substantial Martian mountain is located in the Tharsis region near the equator of Mars. It is only one of a dozen of other large volcanoes, which stands ten to a hundred times taller than ones found on our planet.

In comparison with Mount Everest, Olympus Mons stands three times as high as Earth’s highest peak. Hawaii’s Mauna Loa, the tallest volcano on the planet, only rises 6.3 miles or about 10km above the seafloor. Its height is only less than half of its Martian counterpart. Moreover, Olympus Mons volume is around a hundred times that of Mauna Loa, making it possible to fit the group of Hawaiian islands, where it lies, inside Martian mountain.

As a shield volcano, Olympus Mons was created through the slow movement of lava flowing on its side rather than spewing it violently in the air. With that, it provided the mountain a flat, squat look, with an average 5 percent slope.

Calderas or collapsed craters pile up on top of each other, which produces a depression stretching 53 miles or 85 kilometers wide at Olympus Mons summit. The magma chambers below may have been freed of lava due to an eruption, resulting in its collapse as it can no longer hold the mass of ground on top.

An escarpment also circles the outer of Olympus Mons, towering as high as 6 miles or 10 kilometers. Its height alone would match that of Mauna Loa. The volcano’s base is then surrounded by a large depression, mainly due to its massive weight crushing into the planet’s crust.

While it’s incredibly tall, Olympus Mons is believed to be a young volcano. It may have taken a few billion years for it to form, but some of its parts are only a few million years old. It is relatively young compared to the age of the Solar System, which is around 4.6 billion years. With that, Olympus Mons is still regarded as an active volcano that is most likely to erupt.

Rock glaciers and other frozen matters can also be possibly found in Olympus Mons. The existence of ice and snow deposits on top of the base of its shield is believed to produce such glaciers. With that, water or ice-covered by dust may be present near the volcano’s peak. These young glacier tops may feature lobes, furrows, and ridges all insulated by rocky debris and boulders.

But, how did Olympus Mons actually reach such height while its counterparts on Earth only reached a third to half of its size? Experts say it is the lower surface gravity of Mars, plus more intense rates of eruption made it possible for lava to stock up higher.

Another factor cited by scientists is the tectonic plates, which are significantly linked to the existence of various kinds of volcanoes found on Earth. While the lava hot spots on both Earth and Mars stay in the same location, the movement of the former’s crust averts stable lava buildup.

Meanwhile, Mars’ plate has minimal movement, which keeps its crust and lava hotspots steady. With that, when lava flows upward onto the surface, it continuously stocks up on one area. Thus, allowing massive volcanoes to form instead of a series of islands like on Earth.

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